Key Qualification Indicators for Major Gift Donors

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ed.D. in Leadership for Organizations


Department of Educational Administration


Elizabeth Essex


Building a successful University fundraising program starts by creating a strong pipeline of major gift donors. This action research project aims to improve the qualification process effectiveness and efficiency by understanding the most valuable indicators and internal perspectives within the data to implement innovative changes. A quantitative data difference of means test was conducted to understand the statistically significant indicators between a donor group of major group donors (Donor Group A) and a similarly cultivated and ranked group of prospects who have not made a major gift (Donor Group B). An internal survey was also conducted amongst the major gift development team and prospect research team to understand further what indicators hold the most perceived value and how these indicators compare to what was found in the data. Two qualitative focus groups were also held to discuss the quantitative data results further and analyze how to implement these findings in collaboration with both development and research to help Advancement employees succeed in their work. Results of the survey showed that the internal perspectives of the research and development participants varied for various capacity, engagement, and inclination indicators, and some of the key indicators known internally to hold significant value from the data, did not show up as statistically significant in the difference of means test. Overall, key takeaways from this research study showed that an above-average first gift to the University and a history of consistent annual giving are two of the most vital indicators of determining a future major gift donor prospect. The results of the focus group resulted in several themes as the results of both the survey and difference of means test was discussed amongst the group. There were differences in perspectives on how much focus is spent on understanding a donor's capacity and how these confirmed assets may or may not result in a higher likelihood of an individual making a major gift. There was also confusion on the terminology used in identifying a prospect and the processing of qualifying them along with what is actually defined as donor engagement and how that is different from a donor's inclination to give. The participants also stressed the importance of digging deeper into the data as well as challenges with the integrity of the data throughout the qualification process. These findings and feedback resulted in developing additional training and education to better understand the qualification process, implementation of a new tiered targeted qualification prospect list, and adding additional staffing resources to make the process more effective and efficient for the entire Advancement team.


Higher Education, Major Gift Donors, Qualification Process, Donor Identification, Advancement Prospect Modeling, Research Process for Potential New Donors, Fundraising

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